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‘No one will ever know the most stressful photo I’ve ever shot in my life:’ Behind the lens with one of Canada’s most famed celebrity photographers

By Heather Butts, CTV National News, Toronto Correspondent

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    Toronto, Ontario (CTV Network) — Inside Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre is a red carpet, highlighting images of the world’s biggest celebrities and the famed photographer who snapped them.

The exhibit, “30 Years of Red Carpet Style with George Pimentel,” draws people into the work of iconic Toronto-based photographer George Pimentel. The iconic photographer is based out of Toronto and often found on the red carpet at TIFF, which is getting underway now, but he’s revered around the world, spotting A-listers at Cannes Film Festival, the Academy Awards and many more.

“People love to star seek and these photos are life-size so it gives them a glimpse and it gives them an energy that they’re actually near a star,” said George Pimentel, standing amongst his work as he spoke with CTV National News.

Massive prints of Hollywood elite hang from the atrium, glistening in the September sun shining through the mall’s skylight. Others are printed and placed on temporary walls, allowing shoppers a chance to wonder the red carpet, looking through the lens of Pimentel.

“I just want people to say, ‘Oh wow, this is my favourite actor,” says Pimentel. “In the end I just want beautiful quality and I don’t want anyone to look at it like its paparazzi or a dirty photo. I want it to be like old Hollywood.”

Pimentel’s career was built on honesty and integrity, forging genuine connections with those he was capturing. It was relationships that helped get him to the centre of the red carpets, trusted by not only stars but event organizers, producers and media teams.

“I was never in the bushes, I would approach them,” said Pimentel “I really wanted everybody to trust me, I wanted to be the trusted photographer.”

He recalls a time when a celebrity walked out with a baby and he didn’t take the photo saying to himself, “Nope, that’s not what I’m after” and he was thanked.

“It’s all about integrity. You have to know when to go in and when not to and you have to understand their privacy and no means no, that’s what I’ve always been about,” said Pimentel.

His talent traces back to his grandfather, a photographer in a small village in the Azores region of Portugal. By the age of 12, Pimentel was shadowing his own father, whose photography studio served Toronto’s Portuguese community.

“Photographing those Portuguese weddings in the basement, photographing festivals and communions. It was just an honest business that my dad did,” said Pimentel. His father was at the opening of the exhibit.

But it was his love for movies and Hollywood stars that would secure his place on the red carpet. It was 1993 and Robert De Niro was in Toronto for the premier of “A Bronx Tale,” Pimentel headed for the Elgin Theatre to try and catch a glimpse, with his camera in hand.

“De Niro came out, the flash bulbs, the excitement and the energy and I took this photo and I said this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

He was 26 and a fresh graduate from Ryerson University and that was the Hollywood snap that would alter his career.

Three decades later and his portfolio is filled with Hollywood elite, skillfully capturing moments to remember. The bright lights, over the shoulder looks and the “old Hollywood” style make for some of his favourite shots. But from Pimentel it’s not about the actual image, it’s the story behind it, the work it takes and the directing it takes to land the photo.

“No one will ever know the most stressful photo I’ve ever shot in my life” Pimentel says, walking towards a life-size print of Jennifer Lopez on the red carpet at TIFF in 2019.

Before she even arrived, Pimentel was directing, clearing out security and managing publicists. They listened, as soon as she got out of the car, chaos ensued, the crowd was screaming but he went directly to her team and said exactly where he wanted her. Suddenly people were fluffing the dress and doing her hair.

“For me, it’s such a TIFF moment. To have it clean, have the fans, it’s hard to do, and it’s surreal” said Pimentel, adding she posted the photo to her Instagram that night.

“It’s just nice to compose one frame, all the chaos the security, everything around you, and it’s such a challenge and then to get that shot. It’s just a rush,” he added.

An unwavering dedication and passion for his craft, he says is far from fading. As age 56 he’s promising to have another exhibition similar to this when he celebrates 50 years.

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